Superior general  drawn to St. Teresa 

By Debbie Shelley

The Catholic Commentator  

Sister Mary Prema MC, Superior General of the Missionaries of Charity, continued the work of the congregation’s founder, St. Teresa of Kolkata, in helping people look to the crucified Christ and hear his words, “I thirst,” when she came to Baton Rouge in July.  

DSC_0526.tif

Sister Mary Prema MC, superior general of the Missionaries of Charity, visited with the sisters of her congregation, volunteers and the needy and homeless at the soup kitchen and homeless shelter run by the sisters at St. Agnes Church in Baton Rouge.  Photos by Debbie Shelley | The Catholic Commentator  

 

Sister Prema, the third sister to lead the Missionaries of Charity, was born in Reken, Germany. She read the biography of St. Teresa in 1980 and went to meet St. Teresa in Berlin.  

“I was drawn to their mission and Jesus made it very clear to me that he wanted me to join the Missionaries of Charity and join Mother Teresa and serve the poor. I came to realize I have a vocation,” Sister Prema said in an interview with The Catholic Commentator. 

Sister Prema went to India to join the order. After serving as regional superior of the order in Europe, she returned to India. After St. Teresa’s first successor, Sister Nirmala Joshi died from heart failure, Sister Prema was elected Superior General in March 2009.  

There are currently 4,500 Missionaries of Charity sisters actively working in more than 600 missions across 133 countries.  

With a thoughtful gaze of undivided attention and graceful, unhurried manner, Sister Prema said what she enjoys most about her vocation and work is “belonging to Jesus.”  

“There is this experience of belonging to community and getting to know the sisters from very different backgrounds, which enlarges my heart. In our work with the poor we see our own frailty in them,” she said. “And that makes me understand how we are dependent on God. And how many gifts God has given to me.”  

Bishop Emeritus Robert W. Muench greets Sister Prema.

 

Sister Prema, who ministered alongside St. Teresa, said the quality of St. Teresa that stands out to her most was her determination and that’s what she strives to carry forth in her own leadership.  

“She never refused anything, but she also had this sense of (things being) the will of God, to accept everything as God gives it … she joyfully and full heartedly embraced it,” Sister Prema said.  

Her arrival in Baton Rouge was marked with a Mass celebrated by Bishop Emeritus Robert W. Muench at St. Agnes Church of Baton Rouge.  

In his homily, Bishop Muench said, “Thank you Missionaries of Charity for embracing God’s love and making concrete and tangible the love of neighbor. You are an inspiration to us and we thank God for you because you serve the people of the Diocese of Baton Rouge and are meeting the human and natural needs as well as spiritual needs.”  

Following the Mass, a statue of St. Teresa was unveiled and blessed by Bishop Emeritus Muench in the St. Teresa courtyard next to the church. The statue, which comes from Italy, is currently in the sisters’ chapel, but will return to the courtyard after preparations, including a protective glass casing, are made to return it to the courtyard.  

Following the celebration, Sister Prema spent time in community praying with and talking with the sisters and the Missionaries of Charity lay missionaries, greeting the poor coming through the doors, getting to know them and listening to their joys and concerns.  

“It has been a joyful time of sharing a world wide perspective,” said Sister M. Celian MC, superior for the Missionaries of Charity at St. Agnes. “We are one community (sisters and lay missionaries) helping others.”  

Mission of Charities lay missionary Gail Huxen, who is a liaison between the lay missionaries and the sisters, keeps records of those served by the sisters that are sent to India. She talked about when St. Teresa came to Baton in 1985 to look for a home for the sisters to live and to minister. They moved in to the former St. Agnes Elementary School.  

“I remember I was standing in a crowd of people,” Huxen said. “She (St. Teresa) walked up to me, took my hands in hers and put her hand on top of my head. It was like a jolt of electricity going through my body. Then she said ‘Whatever you do for my sisters do well.’ ” said Huxen.  

Sister Mary Prema MC, superior general of the Missionaries of Charity, walks with attendees after a Mass celebrating her visit to the area at St. Agnes Church in Baton Rouge to the church’s courtyard for the blessing of a statue of St. Teresa of Kolkata by Bishop Emeritus Robert W. Muench. Photo by Debbie Shelley | The Catholic Commentator

 

She also met Sister Nirmala Joshi and spending time with the two superior generals “was like meeting St. Teresa.”  

“There’s always something they say that touches my heart,” said Huxen.  

Diane Ragusa, a Missionaries of Charities lay minister served the sisters at St. Agnes from 2002 to 2015, her home state of Florida, set up the Thursday schedule for volunteers so that the sisters could spend the day praying. That scheduling format is still used.  

“When I received the message that Sister Prema was coming I said, ‘I have to meet her,’ ” said Ragusa, who now lives in Florida.  

Ragusa, who also met St. Teresa and her two predecessors said, “When I met her it was very peaceful, like I have known her all my life, which pretty well speaks of all the sisters – their charism of genuine hospitality and that special love they give out to each of us,” said Ragusa.  

“All the sisters never take credit for what they have done. They give the credit to God,” Ragusa said.  

Sister Prema said she is grateful to St. Agnes for supporting the sisters’ ministry and the hard work of the sisters and volunteers. 

“I pray for this community, that they have one heart in truth and love for the poor,” Sister Prema said.